Reel Reviews | The Irishman

by Charles Kirkland Jr.

What do you get when Martin Scorcese is joined by Robert Deniro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino?  Netflix’s newest Oscar contender, The Irishman.

Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert DeNiro) is just a truck driving guy.  He’s street-smart, strong-willed and laser-focused to prove himself and become an insider in the local Mafia.  He gets the attention of local boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and achieves his desire.  Bufalino takes Sheeran in and covers him with his protection.  Sheeran becomes Bufalino’s go-to-guy when things needed to get done.  One day, Bufalino introduces Frank to an up and coming union boss by the name of Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) and gives him the job of working with Hoffa to keep him in line with the desires of the Mafia.  As Hoffa’s influence and petulance grows, Russell and the other crime bosses get upset. Now a long-time friend of Hoffa, Sheeran is put into the unenviable position of having to rein in his outrageous friend’s behavior…or else.

While much ado has been made about bringing together Academy Award winners Martin Scorsese, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci for the first time, joining them is fellow Academy Award winner Steven Zaillian (Moneyball) who wrote the screenplay for the movie.  Zaillian re-teams with the great Martin Scorsese (Gangs of New York) who directs this epic. Also joining the stars of the film is another Academy Award winner in Anna Paquin, an Academy Award nominee in Harvey Keitel, Emmy Award winner Ray Romano and Bobby Cannavale.

Scorsese is a master filmmaker. The idea that he has only won one Oscar in his career is nearly unimaginable.  He has worked with the best and has delivered some of the most iconic movies in film history.  He also has a reputation for great gangster movies.  So when you give him four Oscar-winning actors and an Oscar-winning screenplay writer, you expect greatness, right?  Not exactly.

The problem with The Irishman is its pedigree.  With all this talent, this movie should be excellent.  It should be a masterpiece but it suffers under its own weight.  At three hours and 29 minutes, the film is epically long.  And while the movie goes “Tarantino” in creating a fiction based upon actuality, it fails to hold the attention of the audience through its entirety.

The big story of the movie is the de-aging process that was used to return DeNiro, Pesci, and Pacino to a younger look for portions of the movie.  Scorsese uses the process well in that it is almost imperceptible that technology has been used.  Yet, it allows the formerly retired actor Pesci and the others to age gracefully through the movie.

Joe Pesci and Al Pacino give delicious performances, commanding the screen during their presence.  It is easy to forget how powerful and smart an actor Pesci has been especially at this time of year when Home Alone is in high demand but, his authoritative, sensible and sometimes conflicted acting as Russell Bufalino is technically brilliant.  Pacino is toned down in his bluster but his confident and unrelenting swagger which makes the audience groan in knowing the outcome for his character. 

Rated R for pervasive language and strong violence, The Irishman is a very good story with strong acting and some technological wizardry.  Unfortunately, the movie plays like a sequel to a previous Scorsese classic, Goodfellas, in its delivery and tone which means it is something we have seen before.  The movie’s pedigree brings an expectation of excellence, so the fact that this movie is very good is a disappointment.  That being said, the movie is very good. 

Grade:  B